A week in Bordeaux, France - A short course on "weak signals"

At the start of the month, I had the opportunity to travel to Bordeaux to participate in the weeklong short course hosted by LabEx COTE. LabEx COTE is a major research consortium that studies Continental To coastal Ecosystems: evolution, adaptability and governance and is a partnership between many French research universities and research centres. Extremely multidisciplinary in nature, we had about 30 PhD students from about 18 different countries at the summer school coming to learn about “Weak signals and emerging issues in ecological transition”. The diversity in backgrounds was both daunting and exciting; I was really interested in how we’d be able to communicate between economists, political scientists, managers, engineers, natural scientists, etc.

Each day of the week revolved around a theme with guest lecturers and lots of opportunity for discussion, with the week culminating in a series of presentations by the students. Some of the themes included “Ecology and Society”, “Emerging Issues in Ecosystems and Economybordeaux streetscape”, and “Climate Change Impacts on Ecosystems”. Some interesting talks that stood out to me included “The role of cloud microorganisms in atmospheric processes”, “In the short term, we are all dead; Or how financial volatility conceals environmental signals” and “Emerging organic pollutants: Myth or reality?”

We also had an opportunity to leave the classroom and visit different field sites: a vineyard (accompanied with a complimentary wine tasting of course), the forest-river interface, the Gironde estuary, as well as the historic city centre of Bordeaux.

Looking at the interaction between the socioeconomic and ecological dimensibordeaux vineyardons of winemaking was an interesting contrast to the agricultural industries around the Grand River watershed that I’m more used to. Whether it be the contaminant of concern, the governance of the industry, or the priorities of the farmers, there were many parallels but also many unique aspects of winemaking that changes the situation completely.

For example, to make the local Sauterne wine, the nearby river of the vineyard provides just enough humidity and cooling to promote the growth of a particular fungus that grows on the grapes. The fungbordeaux wine cellarus, if growing at the right time of the year will extract enough water to concentrate the sugars in the grape. But of course with climate change, this cycle has been seriously affected. Farmers who can change the variety of grapes that they grow to adapt to this change but are unfortunately hindered by the regulations of the industry and the perceptions of society (they must use certain varieties to be labeled Bordeaux wine, or its sub-types).

The short course flew by quickly, ending with some very interesting student presentations on different topics such as connecting forest managemegroup victory shotnt practices to climate change, balancing human and environmental health when using pharmaceuticals and socio-ecological signals in agriculture. Our group looked at methods of integrating weak signals as indicators of ecological regime shifts (also proud of our group for having the best presentation and winning some nice Bordeaux wine along the way!).

The week had many parallels to what students in the Collaborative Water Program at Waterloo experience in the two courses and was an interesting experiment in interdisciplinary learning. All in all, the short course was a fantastic experience, filled with new ideas, great people, delicious food, all in a gorgeous city. 

bordeaux class shot

SWIGS is staring up our blog again in the fall term! If you'd like to be a guest writer for our bi-weekly posts, let Fred know. We'd be happy to have any posts related to interesting water research, experiences (field work, courses, conferences), general student life, etc.